Although my plan was to start at the Berkeley end of Solano and eat my way down through the Albany end, I’d heard that Jodie’s Restaurant was closing June 14th, which means it wouldn’t be there by the time I got that far down the street. So I sort of cheated, skipping several blocks so that I could eat at Jodie’s.
Another technicality that I’m ignoring is that Jodie’s address isn’t actually on Solano—it’s on Masonic. But when you dine at one of the outside tables, you are mere feet from the cross walk where Masonic intersects with Solano, so I’m going to consider it a Solano Avenue spot.
Of course a lot of people knew that Jodie’s was closing, so I wasn’t the only one there at noon on Friday, its next-to-last day in business. The atmosphere was pretty lively, considering the end was near. One of their regulars was making a film, capturing the legendary diner’s last hours for posterity. He interviewed some of the patrons and even set up microphones around the counter area to catch all the ambient chatter. The fellow sitting to my right at the counter confessed to the filmmaker that Jodie’s closing was like losing a family member. Charles handed out postcards with the restaurant’s website address so customers could follow them if they were able to find a new space for Jodie to open up shop. (It’s a sad story involving building codes, sinks, a landlord, and lack of funds to go toward infrastructure.)
By the way, it’s not like I was eavesdropping. Everyone could hear everybody else. For those of you who have never stepped inside Jodie’s, the first word that comes to mind is tiny. Jodie and the other cook had to perform a tight pas de deux in the limited space they call a kitchen. It was really quite impressive. Up front Jodie’s grandson Charles took orders, served up the food, cleared away dishes, and even ran to the store around the corner when they ran out of soda.
Because I was a newbie, Charles gave me the run-down: I could order off the menu or I could choose anything off the wall of specials, except grits and pork chops, which they were out of. (He apologized.) Now usually, the specials at a restaurant include maybe two or three items tops. But Jodie’s specials were combinations of food that he’d been collecting for years, each one named after a customer and displayed on its own handmade sign somewhere on the wall. It was overwhelming. I also had to decide whether I wanted breakfast or lunch. Then he broke the bad news—because everyone and his cousin was coming to Jodie’s that day, it would be an hour and a half wait for food.
I knew it was a now-or-never situation, so I decided not to worry about all the copyediting that was waiting for me back at my desk. My daughter could not wait that long, so she opted for the leftover Zachary’s pizza back home in the frig. I ordered a Bettye sandwich, substituting fries for the potato salad. Dave arrived about a quarter past noon and ordered a Kathy sandwich. While I was ordering, one of the four tables opened up outside, so I gave up my stool and joined Dave out on the sunny sidewalk.
Many folks came by, some willing to wait 90 minutes for lunch and some just to say goodbye to Jodie and Charles. My sandwich arrived at 1:40 but had potato salad instead of fries. I didn’t have the heart to point it out because Charles was working so hard already, so I let Dave have it. (I don’t do potato salad). The sandwich was definitely yummy—beef brisket with melted swiss, carmelized onions, and a touch of BBQ sauce on a grilled sourdough bun.
I spotted Berkeleyside’s Emilie Raguso getting out of her car in front of Jodie’s. She said she wasn’t even hungry—she just had to come by to tell Jodie thanks for everything. (But I noticed she did have a slice of cheesecake after all.)
Dave was meeting someone and had to leave at 2:05, so he never got to see his sandwich. I went in and asked if they could sub in the fries for his potato salad (since he wouldn’t be there to eat it anyway.) A minute later his sandwich arrived, and Charles said the fries would come out separately. So I ate Dave’s (or I guess I should say Kathy’s) sandwich. It was BBQ pork on white bread and not nearly as flavorful or filling as Bettye’s. I probably should have asked for a takeout container to carry back half to Dave, but as I waited for my fries, I found myself eating the whole sandwich. I guess I was pretty darn hungry. But still, it was not very thoughtful on my part…
Of course once I’d finished Dave’s sandwich, I was too full for fries. But at 2:20 as I contemplated whether to go back in and cancel the order, a man and woman arrived and learned that they weren’t taking any more orders. There were still plenty of customers waiting for their food, and it closed at 3:00, so that wasn’t totally unreasonable. But when the man asked the woman where she wanted to go instead, she totally lost it. Her face was red and she actually shook her fists as she yelled, “I don’t want to go anywhere else!” The man started to walk back from whence they came, but the woman yelled after him that they should at least get something to drink. He asked her gently what she wanted before going inside to order. Suffice it to say that she was unhappy with caffeine-free Coke, but when the poor man asked if she’d prefer coffee, she yelled at him that of course she didn’t want coffee—it was hot outside!
I heard one of the two men sitting at the table behind me say, “Now that’s a heart attack waiting to happen.”
Then Emilie Raguso came outside with my fries. “It’s the least I could do,” she explained when I asked if she was helping them out.
I ate one. Then the tiny voice inside that occasionally tries to keep me on program at Weight Watchers said, “Don’t eat them just because they’re there.” But I also have this other voice inside that yells at me when I waste food.
So I approached the angry lady and the man and explained how I had these fries but I had to go and would they like them? The man looked grateful, and I could tell he was about to say yes, but the woman said no and waved them away. The man sighed and thanked me anyway. The two men who had also been watching the meltdown were still waiting for their food, so they were happy to take them.
Goodbye, Jodie’s. I hope you find a new space. Goodbye, angry lady. I hope you find peace.